Southwest Allen County Schools' plans for an early start to the 2020-21 academic year were scrapped Wednesday so teachers and staffers can better prepare for a new learning option for middle and high school students.
Registration was another driver for delaying classes until Aug. 12, Superintendent Phil Downs said.
“Speaking for the team at SACS, we want to thank you for your patience and help as we work to provide a safe, high quality education for your children,” Downs said in an email to families.
The original Aug. 5 start date was approved in 2018 after some debate; SACS traditionally started later in the month. The 7,700-student district would have been the first Allen County public school system to kick off the 2020-21 year, but opted to postpone classes as the coronavirus pandemic has forced educators to rethink instruction.
The postponement won't affect the rest of the academic calendar.
SACS last week announced it would offer students a choice between in-person instruction and remote learning – e-learning for elementary students and a new virtual school for middle and high school students.
The popular dual-credit courses – classes allowing students to earn both high school and college credits – would not be available through the virtual school, however. And that became a problem, Downs said in an interview.
“The number of students who wanted to be able to stay home and do dual-credit was a lot larger number than we thought it would be,” he said. “We knew we had to make a change.”
The school board met in an emergency executive session Monday night to discuss learning options for secondary students.
The closed board meeting drew criticism from Dr. Scott Myers, who identified himself as a SACS board candidate. Wednesday was the first day to file a petition for the November school board race.
In a statement Wednesday, Myers called on the school board to publicly discuss and debate issues surrounding the return to school and to schedule a forum to hear from parents and teachers.
When SACS' online registration opens at 8 a.m. today, secondary students will have a third learning option to consider, what the district is calling real-time at home. Students will participate in classes through Zoom, the video conferencing tool that became popular during stay-at-home orders.
It is different than the eSACS Secondary Virtual School option and will allow for enrollment of all classes, including honors, dual-credit and Advanced Placement courses, Downs said.
He is confident that students can learn effectively through the real-time at home option.
“Nothing's going to be easy,” Downs said. “It's new, and we've got to figure things out, but teachers and kids demonstrated over and over again how creative and flexible and hardworking they are.”
As was planned, teachers and staffers will return to school Aug. 3. The new Aug. 12 start date for students will provide more time for professional development, technology development and training, Downs said. Time also will be used to reconfigure classrooms and test technology, he added.
The district understands it will welcome new students, such as kindergartners, to its schools this year. Orientations for families new to the district will be held, Downs said, adding that families should receive information from their child's school.
Downs acknowledged his team couldn't answer every email and call in recent days but said the input was appreciated: “We're grateful for the feedback from families.”